I Can’t Play Monster Hunter

The first time I tried to play Monster Hunter was all the way back in 2010 with a demo for Monster Hunter Tri. I booted up the game and was transported to a fantasy world of vast, wild environments and epic creatures roaming freely. I remember running in an open field and coming across a giant, brontosaurus-like creature that was grazing. I took out my sword and did what the titles suggested that I do: hunt monsters. With one swing from my mighty weapon, the beast cried out and tumbled to the ground, lifeless.

I felt so bad that I immediately turned the game off. Why had I killed that creature? It wasn’t harming me or anyone else in the fictional world. I wasn’t going to eat it or use its parts for making new weapons. It was there, and I killed it for no reason. Killing that monster had such a profound impact on me that I actually became a vegetarian for a short time, as I drew parallels between killing defenseless digital animals and killing defenseless real animals.

I never thought about Monster Hunter again until the release of Monster Hunter World a few years ago. The combination of critical acclaim and word-of-mouth praise from my friends convinced me to buy it when it went on sale. I thought that I might be past the silly sentimentality which prevented me from playing Tri. I booted up the game, designed my avatar, listened to a bunch of long-winded NPCs, and finally set out on my first mission. The task was to cull a herd of beasts that was growing too large. I reached the herd, and instead of finding rampaging monsters attacking everything in sight, I found a herd grazing, much like my victim in Tri. I couldn’t bring myself to attack. I turned off the game and uninstalled it.

I know these creatures aren’t real. And I’ve had no problem murdering thousands of virtual humans, demons and Goombas in my long gaming career. But something feels different about going into a habitat and killing animals there, minding their own business. I don’t feel good when asked to complete that task, and feel even worse when I try to complete it. There seems to be no point to this exercise. “Cull the herd?” What an arrogantly human position to take. What gives me, or anyone in this virtual world, the right to decide that there’s too many animals roaming about? Especially because these animals are never described as a threat?

My head is telling me I’m ridiculous for feeling this way about not real animals. But I also called a former philosophy professor last summer and asked him if it was morally defensible to pull weeds simply to achieve a particular aesthetic. His answer was that all systems of belief are arbitrary, and I had to decide if I thought that the right of weeds to live outweighed my desire to have a nice lawn. Worst of all, he told me that no one would judge me either way. That actually makes it much harder- at least if someone called me crazy for caring about weeds, or a monster for destroying them, I’d have some moral North Star to guide myself by.

But no such luck. No one cares if I weed my lawn, and no one cares if I play Monster Hunter. I’m left to make the decision myself, and live with it myself. At the end of the day, it just feels bad to me to kill these animals. I guess that’s the North Star I have to follow.

One thought on “I Can’t Play Monster Hunter

  1. I totally get this. Years ago, when the first Star Wars Battlefront came out, a friend was telling me how much fun it was to play as the Empire and kill Ewoks. I tried it once and I was horrified. It’s just a video game, and there’s no such thing as Ewoks, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

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